Punjab govt defers approval of new defamation law till Sunday

The Punjab government Wednesday announced deferring the vote-seekin approval on the province's proposed defamation law till Sunday on Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz's orders.

"[The government] is postponing the approval of the [defmation] law on CM Maryam Nawaz's directives. Journalist organisations can discuss their objections with us till Sunday," Punjab's Minister for Information Azma Bokhari said while addressing a press conference in Lahore.

"The CM says that we are ready to hold talks with all journalist organisations," Bokhari said, adding that anyone having an objection to any specific provision of the defamation law can submit it in writing by the end of this week.

Her remarks come after Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz's government tabled the new anti-defamatory legislation in the Punjab Assembly on Tuesday — a move which has faced some resistance from various sections of the society including journalists.

As per The News, President Lahore Press Club Arshad Ansari is among such voices and has termed the move as the government's attempt to stifle dissenting voices which amounts to a "direct assault on the pillars of democracy."

"The LPC, in collaboration with fellow journalist organisations, will devise a robust strategy to combat this draconian law [...] we urge the Punjab government to reconsider its stance and uphold the values of democracy and freedom of the press," Ansari added.

Elaborating on the details of the proposed legislation, the information minister revealed that notices will be issued to those who speak without backing their statements with relevant proof.

The accused will be asked to choose three dates for appearing before the court within 21 days and the cases will be concluded in 180 days, she said, adding that the legislation will apply on social media platforms as well.

"If the charge of defamation is proved, Rs3 million will have to be paid [by the guilty] in damages," Bokhari said adding that if someone believes the defamation to be more than the said amount then he will have to prove it.

She also underscored that the accused will be allowed to defend himself if he wishes to do so.

Meanwhile, a judge of the high court will be given the status of a tribunal and the party, affected by the alleged defamation, will be able to file a case via the tribunal, the minister said.

The tribunal's judge will only have to hear two cases per day, she added.

However, Bokhari highlighted that, as per the proposed law, the case registered under it will be a civil one and will neither have any police role nor it will provision for any arrest and incarceration.

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